We live in a city whose location we did not select, that we did not design or build, dependent on technologies that we did not invent, speaking languages that we did not create. And yet, the city is now ours. Our daily lives transpire in a place that we have inherited. That makes us just like the people of every other city, although we (and Jacksonville) are different from other cities. It also makes us the stewards of Jacksonville’s future.
In light of the city’s upcoming Bicentennial, the Jacksonville Historical Society (JHS) has been increasingly mindful of those thoughts. Now, 2022 has arrived, and we are fulfilling one of the reasons for any city to have a historical society—to preserve and share the stories of its origins and growth and to inspire its people to a sense of investment and to be caring citizens. Looking back at 200 years cannot fail to make us thoughtful about the next 200.
The title of the JHS newsletter is “Jacksonville History Matters,” and that is more than a name—it’s a message. Even though we live in the present moment, history is who we are. Unless we know something of what and who came before, the present has little meaning. Every person is a living creation of their past and so it is with a neighborhood, a community, or a nation. A city like Jacksonville is a product of our many pasts.
This city’s past consists of many histories. It is the history of business and industry and of the military—especially the Navy. It’s the history of automobiles, aviation, the sea, and (especially) the river. It is the history of education, medicine, the law, courts, policing, crime, and punishment. It’s the history of politics and elections. Jacksonville’s civil rights history is a microcosm of the long-running, broad American contest over social equity and justice. As a major seaport, this city’s immigrant populations have long enriched and diversified its communities and neighborhoods. Jacksonville is labor history, as well as the history of banking, insurance, shipbuilding, engineering, architecture, and construction. Timber and agriculture have been central to the Jacksonville story. Athletic performance, such as baseball, football, and golf have long histories here at the high school, collegiate, and professional levels. Jacksonville’s music history alone adds up to a fascinating series of interconnected stories and then there is art in its many forms.
As our population approaches one million, we are the largest city in Florida and in the Southeast United States—twice the size of Miami or Atlanta. Recently we have been imagining exhibits for this June’s Bicentennial Community Festival to take place downtown on June 11th. The list of Jacksonville histories above consists of just a few examples of ways to tell the story of this amazing, endlessly interesting city. Please help by visiting the Bicentennial website www.Jax200.org/contact-us/ and sharing something about your Jacksonville story. It will be a gift to the Jacksonvillians who will have inherited our city by 2222!
Alan J. Bliss, Ph.D.
CEO, Jacksonville Historical Society